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Those Who Can, Do; Those Who Can’t, Teach?

NewaaronAaron Singh -- Teachers. We all have them, we all know them, and sometimes we all spend class time daydreaming of creative ways to kill them horribly. But like ‘em or not, teachers are a lifelong part of medical teaching. From the sadistic professor grinning evilly on your first day at med school to the slightly more senior professor who actually helps, teachers play a big part in medicine because of medicine’s very nature as a profession where learning is lifelong.

And so it should come as no surprise that many of us medics choose to do some teaching in our lifetimes. All doctors do some teaching and guiding in their careers, of course, but not everyone likes it; some choose to give vent to childhood nightmares, leading to tales of horror (such as those sometimes heard on this blog), and some become like those subatomic particles you hear about in quantum physics: they exist only theoretically. But still others like it so much that they choose to make careers out of it; they go into academia, teach doctors, do research, and are often inspiring enough to spur many other students on to greatness. We’ve all encountered one of those teachers, as I said in a previous post.

But only recently did I see that there was a difference in attitude towards teaching in medicine. Studying at a research university in a country where academia is respected and even rewarded, I had been taught that academia is a respectable profession, no less desirable than surgery or internal medicine or any other medical specialty. I enjoy teaching*, and had been seriously considering a full-time career in academia, far off though that choice may be. But while I was back in Malaysia for the summer, I asked some of my fellow medics what they thought of it, and first I got silence. Then some of them actually started laughing.

“What, don’t you have enough stress already?”

“What are you gonna live on for the rest of your life, peanuts?”

Then they all laughed heartily, slapped me on the back right as I was swallowing, and admitted none of them knew the Heimlich Manoeuvre as I sat there gagging.

But they’re not alone. In many countries, academics are seen as weaker versions of the professionals they help to teach. If you’re in a teaching job, it’s automatically assumed that you’re there because you couldn’t land any other job. Whereas in Western countries, academia is seen as a proper profession, even venerated, and thankfully a trend towards this is being seen in more and more developing countries (Malaysia included) as they realise the importance of research. I actually spent some time as a part-time teacher helping out in my old school, and I enjoyed the experience thoroughly. I’m definitely going to spend some time teaching in my career too.

*And no, not just because I want to pass on all the slaps, kicks and textbooks thrown at me by my supervisors, okay.**

**Okay maybe just a few kicks. Okay knuckle raps only, I promise!

July 29, 2007 | Permalink


That was a great blog. I also consider becoming an educator someday, specially when I see such brilliant doctors that cannot pass their knowledge to their students. However, the reaction of saying that you prefer the blackboard/whiteboard/ppt than a scapel is almost always the same.
To hell with what they think. After all, what really matters at the end of the day is to do what makes you happy.

Posted by: soniely123 | Aug 1, 2007 11:44:44 AM

great post. i am a Malaysian too, but studying in Russia (Govt scholarship). in my opinion teaching is not only a career, it takes place in our everyday life. For example a fellow medic asks you about something that he doesn't understand. automatically you become a teacher to him. i love being asked by my group mates because this evaluates me whether i understand something or not. i guess we can say the same thing about teaching as a profession. you can't be a teacher if you don't grasp the knowledge, at least the theoretical part, right? i guess the saying ' those who can't do, teach ' has some truth to some extent. on the other hand not everybody who can do, can teach.

for me i think i'm a horrible teacher because sometimes my friends don't understand what I'm saying (maybe i talk too fast, or just blabbering)..

good luck to you Aaron. I hope you are successful not only as a doctor, but a teacher as well.

Posted by: hafidzudin zainal | Aug 1, 2007 6:09:53 PM

Well Aaron,
I don't exactly know how things are elsewhere.. I am in Mauritius, a tiny island in the Indian Ocean. Here we have only one medical school which runs the whole MBBS. I am at the national university here, where having completed my BSc, decided to go into research for 2 years, before hopefully continuing with medical school in some country abroad. I notice the difference with which my friends who have gone straight for their completion view me as (as you said) "a weaker version"...its annoying sometimes but I have great support from my hubby, parents as well as the supervisors for my project. And I always keep in mind that I would have been regarded differently with "broader-minded" people..
Well research is amazing...and it's so different reading research articles, textbooks are whole lot easier stuff, I miss Guyton and enjoy reading it for the fun of it these days.

Posted by: mphil student | Aug 2, 2007 1:29:58 AM

Indeed, this applies to all teachers across all scopes from kindergarten and beyond.


An inspirational video of a poetic speech made by highschool teacher, Taylor Mali. Enjoy and Keep it up!

Posted by: | Aug 6, 2007 7:24:00 AM

Yeah but no but yeah but no but...

I disagree. To a point.

The best teachers and academics aren't those who think 'I fancy doing some teaching / research' nor are they those who couldn't get another job, and nor are they those who do these things for the benefit of their CV.

The best medical teachers and academics are those who fall into it accidentally. The ones who have a fairly straightforward career path (and sound priorities) but discover a talent for teaching and/or research along the way, then choose to incorporate these skills into their everyday practice.

IMO all 'teachers' who believe in humiliating students should be shot, and all 'academics' who spend a career sleazing and sliming their way into other peoples' research projects and/or doing research which someone else has had the brains and innovation to think up, should seriously consider getting a life.

Judgemental, moi?

Posted by: SurgAnon | Aug 7, 2007 12:30:29 PM

After SPM, I was deciding between becoming a teacher or a doctor, when my dad said, "Too many teachers in the family. Better you become a doctor."

'course, that was NOT the reason I cited when answering every-medical-school's-favourite-question-to-ask-potential-cash-cows-despite-knowing-this-means-they-will-have-to-wade-through-piles-of-sob-stories-which-are-all-completely-untrue-to-boot: "Why do you want to become a doctor?"

Then, I did get into medical school - what can I say, I do write a mean sob story, even if I haven't got the eyelashes - where I thought I could marry both ambitions and become a lecturer.

For all of 2 minutes, until I remembered JPA probably won't be too keen on my running-off to join the academia, since they apparently need more doctors & cooks (if this is anything to go by: http://www.theborneopost.com/?p=23125&print=1) rather than lecturers, and because I still wouldn't have access to the sort of soft boys you get in high school, making the entire venture pointless.

But, I'm sure you have nobler reasons than I, and I sincerely hope you have plenty of opportunities to enjoy what you're doing.

Posted by: Sheena | Aug 10, 2007 10:22:57 PM

Haha, great blog. I don't think that teaching is a nutty job. Indeed, I found it as an enjoyable and a good experience to have; looking how your students grow and how they advance (was a school teacher after my STPM and gave tuitions though ^_^) Anyway, i'll support your if you intend to do so, but please promise that you will 'behave' yourself when becoming a teacher hahahaha......

Posted by: Loks | Sep 11, 2007 11:17:24 PM

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